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       Black Jack, p.26

           Max Brand
 

  CHAPTER 26

  "It don't mean nothing," Pollard hastened to assure Terry. "It don't meana thing in the world except that she's a fool girl. The queerest,orneriest, kindest, strangest, wildest thing in the shape of calico thatever come into these parts since her mother died before her. But the moreyou see of her, the more you'll value her. She can ride like a man--nowear out to her--and she's got the courage of a man. Besides which shecan sling a gun like it would do your heart good to see her! Don't takenothing she does to heart. She don't mean no harm. But she sure doestangle up a gent's ideas. Here I been living with her nigh onto twentyyears and I don't savvy her none yet. Eh, boys?"

  "I'm not offended in the least," said Terry quietly.

  And he was not, but he was more interested than he had ever been beforeby man, woman, or child. And for the past few seconds his mind had beenfollowing her through the door behind which she had disappeared.

  "And if I were to see more of her, no doubt--" He broke off with: "ButI'm not apt to see much more of any of you, Mr. Pollard. If I can't stayhere and work off that three-hundred-dollar debt--"

  "Work, hell! No son of Black Jack Hollis can work for me. But he can livewith me as a partner, son, and he can have everything I got, half andhalf, and the bigger half to him if he asks for it. That's straight!"

  Terry raised a protesting hand. Yet he was touched--intimately touched.He had tried hard to fit in his place among the honest people of themountains by hard and patient work. They would have none of him. His ownkind turned him out. And among these men--men who had no law, as he hadevery reason to believe--he was instantly taken in and made one of them.

  "But no more talk tonight," said Pollard. "I can see you're played out.I'll show you the room."

  He caught a lantern from the wall as he spoke and began to lead the wayup the stairs to the balcony. He pointed out the advantages of the houseas he spoke.

  "Not half bad--this house, eh?" he said proudly. "And who d'you thinkplanned it? Your old man, kid. It was Black Jack Hollis himself that doneit! He was took off sudden before he'd had a chance to work it out andbuild it. But I used his ideas in this the same's I've done in otherthings. His idea was a house like a ship.

  "They build a ship in compartments, eh? Ship hits a rock, water comes in.But it only fills one compartment, and the old ship still floats. Samewith this house. You seen them walls. And the walls on the outside ain'tthe only thing. Every partition is the same thing, pretty near; and agent could stand behind these doors safe as if he was a mile away from agun. Why? Because they's a nice little lining of the best steel you everseen in the middle of 'em.

  "Cost a lot. Sure. But look at us now. Suppose a posse was to rush thehouse. They bust into the kitchen side. Where are they? Just the same asif they hadn't got in at all. I bolt the doors from the inside of the bigroom, and they're shut out agin. Or suppose they take the big room? Thena couple of us slide out on this balcony and spray 'em with lead. Thishouse ain't going to be took till the last room is filled full of thesheriff's men!"

  He paused on the balcony and looked proudly over the big, baronial roombelow them. It seemed huger than ever from this viewpoint, and the menbelow them were dwarfed. The light of the lanterns did not extend all theway across it, but fell in pools here and there, gleaming faintly on themen below.

  "But doesn't it make people suspicious to have a fort like this built onthe hill?" asked Terry.

  "Of course. If they knew. But they don't know, son, and they ain't goingto find out the lining of this house till they try it out with lead."

  He brought Terry into one of the bedrooms and lighted a lamp. As theflare steadied in the big circular oil burner and the light spread, Terrymade out a surprisingly comfortable apartment. There was not a bunk, buta civilized bed, beside which was a huge, tawny mountain-lion skinsoftening the floor. The window was curtained in some pleasant bluestuff, and there were a few spots of color on the wall--only calendars,some of them, but helping to give a livable impression for the place.

  "Kate's work," grinned Pollard proudly. "She's been fixing these rooms upall out of her own head. Never got no ideas out of me. Anything you mightlack, son?"

  Terry told him he would be very comfortable, and the big man wrung hishand again as he bade him good night.

  "The best work that Denver ever done was bringing you to me," hedeclared. "Which you'll find it out before I'm through. I'm going to giveyou a home!" And he strode away before Terry could answer.

  The rather rare consciousness of having done a good deed swelled in theheart of Joe Pollard on his way down from the balcony. When he reachedthe floor below, he found that the four men had gone to bed and leftDenver alone, drawn back from the light into a shadowy corner, where hewas flanked by the gleam of a bottle of whisky on the one side and ashimmering glass on the other. Although Pollard was the nominal leader,he was in secret awe of the yegg. For Denver was an "in-and-outer."Sometimes he joined them in the West; sometimes he "worked" an Easternterritory. He came and went as he pleased, and was more or less a law tohimself. Moreover, he had certain qualities of silence and brooding thatusually disturbed the leader. They troubled him now as he approached thesquat, shapeless figure in the corner chair.

  "What you think of him?" said Denver.

  "A good kid and a clean-cut kid," decided Joe Pollard judicially. "Maybehe ain't another Black Jack, but he's tolerable cool for a youngster.Stood up and looked me in the eye like a man when I had him cornered awhile back. Good thing for him you come out when you did!"

  "A good thing for you, Joe," replied Denver Pete. "He'd of turned youinto fertilizer, bo!"

  "Maybe; maybe not. Maybe they's some things I could teach him about gun-slinging, Pete."

  "Maybe; maybe not," parodied Denver. "You've learned a good deal aboutguns, Joe--quite a bit. But there's some things about gun fighting thatnobody can learn. It's got to be born into 'em. Remember how Black Jackused to slide out his gat?"

  "Yep. There was a man!"

  "And Minter, too. There's a born gunman."

  "Sure. We all know Uncle Joe--damn his soul!"

  "But the kid beat Uncle Joe fair and square from an even break--and beathim bad. Made his draw, held it so's Joe could partway catch up with him,and then drilled him clean!"

  Pollard scratched his chin.

  "I'd believe that if I seen it," he declared.

  "Pal, it wasn't Terry that done the talking; it was Gainor. He's seen agood deal of gunplay, and said that Terry's was the coolest he everwatched."

  "All right for that part of it," said Joe Pollard. "Suppose he's fast--but can I use him? I like him well enough; I'll give him a good deal; butis he going to mean charity all the time he hangs out with me?"

  "Maybe; maybe not," chuckled Denver again. "Use him the way he can beused, and he'll be the best bargain you ever turned. Black Jack startedyou in business; Black Jack the Second will make you rich if you handlehim right--and ruin you if you make a slip."

  "How come? He talks this 'honesty' talk pretty strong."

  "Gimme a chance to talk," said Denver contemptuously. "Takes a gentthat's used to reading the secrets of a safe to read the secrets of agent's head. And I've read the secret of young Black Jack Hollis. He's apile of dry powder, Joe. Throw in the spark and he'll explode so damnedloud they'll hear him go off all over the country."

  "How?"

  "First, you got to keep him here."

  "How?"

  Joe Pollard sat back with the air of one who will be convinced through nomental effort of his own. But Denver was equal to the demand.

  "I'm going to show you. He thinks he owes you three hundred."

  "That's foolish. I cheated the kid out of it. I'll give it back to himand all the rest I won."

  Denver paused and studied the other as one amazed by such stupidity.

  "Pal, did you ever try, in the old days, to _give_ anything to the oldBlack Jack?"

  "H'm. Well, he sure hated charity. But this ain't charity."

 
"It ain't in your eyes. It is in Terry's. If you insist, he'll get sore.No, Joe. Let him think he owes you that money. Let him start in workingit off for you--honest work. You ain't got any ranch work. Well, set himto cutting down trees, or anything. That'll help to hold him. If he makessome gambling play--and he's got the born gambler in him--you got onelast thing that'll be apt to keep him here."

  "What's that?"

  "Kate."

  Pollard stirred in his chair.

  "How d'you mean that?" he asked gruffly.

  "I mean what I said," retorted Denver. "I watched young Black Jacklooking at her. He had his heart in his eyes, the kid did. He likes her,in spite of the frosty mitt she handed him. Oh, he's falling for her,pal--and he'll keep on falling. Just slip the word to Kate to kid himalong. Will you? And after we got him glued to the place here, we'llfigure out the way to turn Terry into a copy of his dad. We'll figure outhow to shoot the spark into the powder, and then stand clear for theexplosion."

  Denver came silently and swiftly out of the chair, his pudgy hand spreadon the table and his eyes gleaming close to the face of Pollard.

  "Joe," he said softly, "if that kid goes wrong, he'll be as much as hisfather ever was--and maybe more. He'll rake in the money like it wasdirt. How do I know? Because I've talked to him. I've watched him andtrailed him. He's trying hard to go straight. He's failed twice; thethird time he'll bust and throw in with us. And if he does, he'll cleanup the coin--and we'll get our share. Why ain't you made more moneyyourself, Joe? You got as many men as Black Jack ever had. It's becauseyou ain't got the fire in you. Neither have I. We're nothing but toolsready for another man to use the way Black Jack used us. Nurse this kidalong a little while, and he'll show us how to pry open the places wherethe real coin is cached away. And he'll lead us in and out with no dangerto us and all the real risk on his own head. That's his way--that was hisdad's way before him."

  Pollard nodded slowly. "Maybe you're right."

  "I know I am. He's a gold mine, this kid is. But we got to buy him withsomething more than gold. And I know what that something is. I'm going toshow him that the good, lawabiding citizens have made up their minds thathe's no good; that they're all ag'in' him; and when he finds that out,he'll go wild. They ain't no doubt of it. He'll show his teeth! And whenhe shows his teeth, he'll taste blood--they ain't no doubt of it."

  "Going to make him--kill?" asked Pollard very softly.

  "Why not? He'll do it sooner or later anyway. It's in his blood."

  "I suppose it is."

  "I got an idea. There's a young gent in town named Larrimer, ain'tthere?"

  "Sure. A rough kid, too. It was him that killed Kennedy last spring."

  "And he's proud of his reputation?"

  "Sure. He'd go a hundred miles to have a fight with a gent with a goodname for gunplay."

  "Then hark to me sing, Joe! Send Terry into town to get something foryou. I'll drop in ahead of him and find Larrimer, and tell Larrimer thatBlack Jack's son is around--the man that dropped Sheriff Minter. ThenI'll bring 'em together and give 'em a running start."

  "And risk Terry getting his head blown off?"

  "If he can't beat Larrimer, he's no use to us; if he kills Larrimer, it'sgood riddance. The kid is going to get bumped off sometime, anyway. He'sbad--all the way through."

  Pollard looked with a sort of wonder on his companion.

  "You're a nice, kind sort of a gent, ain't you, Denver?"

  "I'm a moneymaker," asserted Denver coldly. "And, just now, Terry Hollisis my gold mine. Watch me work him!"

 
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